PlanetSide vs. PlanetSide 2: The key differences

PlanetSide screenshot
If you're a PlanetSide player who has been around since the beginning, I don't need to explain the differences between the original and its follow-up, PlanetSide 2. But if you're an old-school player who has never touched the second version, a new-school player who's never played the original, or a player who's brand-new to the universe completely, then this article about the PlanetSide duo and what sets the two games apart is for you.

The first and most important difference is each game's population. I am not exaggerating when I say that the original PlanetSide is today merely a shell of its former self. I tried on several occasions to find a fight to join and was only once able to locate a tiny battle in one small corner of the world. That's something to keep in mind if you give the elder game a deeper look.

PlanetSide screenshot
The most obvious difference between the two titles is found in their graphics. The original PlanetSide is now almost mockingly primitive when compared to the flashy tracer bullets and bright explosions of PlanetSide 2, but it was pretty impressive at its launch in 2003. There is something to be said for the original's current ability to be played on lower-end PCs, too. In a massive PvP MMO, graphical lag can be a game-breaking issue, and with PlanetSide 2's better graphics comes the need for more computing power. In fact, early critics panned the game's high system requirements. Fortunately for SOE, FPS fans tend to favor bleeding-edge tech. For gamers who drag our feet over upgrading their gaming machines every so often, there were concerns that stepping up the newer version of the game would be too much for older machines. Recently, the development team issued the first phase of its "OMFG" patch, promising optimized UI and other tweaks that significantly smoothed out gameplay and raised frames per second.

PlanetSide 2 uses the SOE-created Forgelight Engine, allowing for more realistic vehicle controls, day and night cycles, bullets that are affected by physics and other bells and whistles. It also introduced locational damage to the mix, meaning that a well-placed head shot can actually cause more damage than other shots, for example.

The more obscure differences between the two games are relatively obvious to veteran players. Battle Frame Robotics aka powerful walking mech-suits of death aka "Big F&#!ing Robots" were an original-game addition that some players have referred to as "PlanetSide's NGE." As with Star Wars Galaxies' NGE, there are still debates as to how much of an impact the changes truly made, but some players claim to have left the game forever simply because of the addition of the initially overpowered behemoths. Similarly, forum-goers insist that if BFRs (or something similar) were added to PlanetSide 2, there would be boycotts and significant population loss. However much BFRs imbalanced the classic game is still up for debate, but either way, BFRs have become attached to the PlanetSide story.

Fortunately, SOE president John Smedley has promised that no BFRs will appear in PlanetSide 2. Balance is an ongoing issue for any massive PvP MMO, and new vehicles like the Harasser are introduced frequently, bringing the possibility of a new BFR with them. Time will tell.

How players pay for both games shows not only a difference in the titles but a difference in how modern MMO players favor free-to-play. The original PlanetSide was a subscription-based MMO, and players had access to everything the game offered through gameplay. But PlanetSide 2 uses a not-so-subtle item-shop that sells many things you need to become a better player. With enough money, a new player could potentially unlock almost everything in PlanetSide 2 within minutes of loading the game for the first time. By contrast, the original title did not sell access to better weapons and skills. Instead, those items were unlocked through gameplay.

Many players see PS2's method as "selling power," but the advantage of a skill-based game is that time and experience is always the greatest balancing force, well above the influence of a player's pocketbook. In other words, although a new player can buy access to a better weapon, it's very possible that a different player who has more experience or who might even be outfitted in lower-grade equipment could best the paying player through skill alone. PlanetSide 2 does offer a membership option that gives out more frequent and better chunks of free certifications (used for unlocking weapons and abilities) as well as experience and resource boosts (used for obtaining vehicles, equipment and aircraft while in game). How effective a player is with these bonuses is still up to the individual's skill level, however.

The two titles also differ in how players craft their characters over time. In the original, a player would make a new character and log in to the game. The character would be pretty basic, and accessing a terminal would show the abilities and equipment that a player would need to unlock by acquiring certificates.

PlanetSide screenshot
In PlanetSide 2, a player starts off with access to all of the different "classes." That player can switch classes at any time by visiting a terminal. With each class comes access to different weapons, but more weapons and abilities can be unlocked as players spend certs that are earned in game or through a membership's free cert allowance. Players can unlock a new gun or side-armor for a favorite tank simply by earning the certs in-game or paying several dollars to essentially skip the gameplay. To many veteran PlanetSide fans, this shift represents selling power. To others, the balance of skill-based gameplay evens everything out.

PlanetSide 2 screenshot
There are many other differences that you will notice if you are making the switch between games, but those I've outlined are the most noteworthy. The original PlanetSide is a more specific experience, one that makes players specialize in a role and slowly climb the way to more certs and unlocks. It also boasts much more primitive graphics. PlanetSide 2 is a gorgeous game that gives players access to every class, all vehicles, and many weapons from the beginning. The Station cash shop lets players unlock new weapons or abilities with real money, negating the need to grind out certs by playing the game. There are additional cash-shop items like appearance items and memberships that grant in-game bonuses.

Whatever the differences, no one can deny that PlanetSide 2 is a definite step into the "next gen" world of MMOs. How long will it last before it is updated to the next tier, and how will upcoming additions like Battle Islands or the influence of Major League Gaming affect development? Those battles will be determined by the future.
This article was originally published on Massively.